Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jesus For President, Proper 20 Year B

Yesterday, at a local festival I saw a man wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt that said “In the world, not of it”.  Now, this reference to the letter to the Romans directly addresses the tension that we as Christians often find ourselves facing.  We are called to be in the world yet we are also called to hold ourselves apart.  We are a people of God, yet we live in this world.    

Now this tension is not new to us, and as the early Christian communities formed they found themselves wrestling with how to live their lives as Christians.  It’s hard to imagine, but early Christians were a tiny minority and were surrounded by the monolithic and oppressive Roman empire.  So, as we read the letter of James, we need to picture a small Jewish Christian community that faces intense external pressure.  But, this letter, while it does concern itself with calling this community to stand as a voice against the dominant culture, is mostly concerned with the reality that these early Christians weren’t acting like, well, Christians.  In the passage we read today James draws a distinction between what he terms 

Earthly wisdom, in which success is marked by envy and selfish ambition and getting ahead in order to indulge our own wants, to "spend what you get on your own pleasures"; and Wisdom from above, a way of living that prioritizes gentleness, peace making and a willingness to lose, being, "willing to yield".  A wisdom that is full of mercy and good fruits--an abundance that is shared widely without partiality and hypocrisy

Now, this tension between these competing wisdoms, between a world that so often seems to reward selfish ambition and a God that calls us to be “willing to yield”, was clearly a problem for the early Christians and not just those to whom the author of James addresses his words.  In our Gospel we can see that this the disciples too were torn between a worldly kind of wisdom in which success meant achieving the highest public/personal honors and the reality of a Christ who is going to lose by the rules of the world and calls them to do likewise.  Further I think many of us have been in vestry and church committee meetings that echo this very tension in the here and the now.

When the disciples adhered to worldly understandings of greatness they argued and for a moment their sense of community and shared mission was lost behind their individual desires for honor and greatness.  When we forget that it is Christ that unites us and that we have a shared obligation to do God’s work in the world it becomes far to easy for conflict, strife, fear and anger to dominate the conversation.  Being in the world but avoiding being ruled by the world is a demanding and difficult calling.

In light of this difficulty, I've been reflecting on an interview I heard last week of the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks, by Krista Tippett,  In the words of Rabbi Sacks, which I roughly paraphrase here "reconciliation can only be achieved when the victors realize that there are victims to their victories".  As I read the Gospel and James through the lens of this quote, it has occurred to me that central to our calling as Christians is the need to hold onto the awareness that in any conflict our opponents are also beloved children of God.  

How would our public discourse changed if we started and ended with an understanding of our shared humanity, of our shared belovedness?  What if the foundation of our work towards what we describe as justice was the notion of mercy and willingness to yield?  

What would that debate look like?  Can you imagine Democratic and Republican conventions grounded in an acknowledgment of our shared humanity?  In the midst of heated and passionate arguments for and against same sex marriage can you imagine everyone coming together and getting to know each other--getting to know each other’s families and lives, each other’s cares and concerns?  How would that change the conversation?  

I’ve done a small amount of volunteering with Minnesotans United for All Families--the organization working to defeat the amendment which would put into the state constitution language barring gay marriage.  And, in their trainings they have focused on  the importance of staying in relationship with the friends, neighbors or relatives who disagree with us.  Because, at the end of the day the only way anyone can be transformed is by staying in the conversation and allowing ourselves to know and be known.  

And, perhaps that is part of what it means to be a Christian--putting aside the notion of winning at all cost in favor of working to stay in relationship, to create a world in which James’ vision of gentleness and peace making prevail.  

And, while I continue to hope and pray that “my side wins” I am also called to realize that if I win, there will be another who is hurt by my winning.  We are called to remember the humanity of our opponents and in that remembering we have to deal with the fact that they too, whoever they are, are beloved children of God.  

Election campaigns focus on winning and losing, they focus on which candidate will best serve our own interests or those of “people like us” and this by it’s very definition does not reflect the Gospel or who are called to be as Christians.  Can you imagine Jesus running for President?  I’m thinking his odds of winning would be slim to none.  It's hard to win an election when the only thing you can promise is undying love...

Ultimately, it’s not about what we’ll get by being a Christian, but about what we will give and, this light, I wish to call to mind a portion of our baptismal covenant:
-Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
-Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These are some of the promises that set us apart as Christians--that mark that what we do in the world reflects the love of God and the the unity of the broken body made whole in our lives and in our actions.  How will we live out these promises in an election season?  And, when our community seems fractured and rent by differences how will we work to repair what is broken?

There are folks who have a vision of how we might go about this work of reconciliation--a work centered in a vision of a world.  They have proposed that we all participate in something they are calling: “Election Day Communion”.  This movement proposes that on the night of November 6th we gather--regardless of how we voted--and gather for communion and in doing so, remember some essential truths:

“We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
We’ll remember that, through the Holy Spirit, this power dwells within otherwise ordinary people who as one body continue the mission of Jesus: preaching good news to the poor, freeing the captives, giving sight to the blind, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:16-21).
We’ll remember that freedom — true freedom — is given by God and is indeed not free. It comes with a cost and it looks like a cross.
We’ll remember our sin and our need to repent.
We’ll remember that the only Christian nation in this world is the Church, a holy nation that crosses all human-made boundaries and borders.
We’ll remember that our passions are best placed within the passion of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
We’ll remember that we do not conform to the patterns of this world, but we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
We’ll remember that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.
And we’ll re-member the body of Christ as the body of Christ, confessing the ways in which partisan politics has separated us from one another and from God.
On Tuesday evening, November 6,
make a choice to remember.
Let’s meet at the Lord’s Table.
Let’s remember together.”

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